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PR Interview with Claire Walker, CEO & founder of Firefly Communications

What has been happening at Firefly recently?

The big event this year for Firefly is our 25th anniversary as an independent PR agency. We’ve been busy producing some video content of current staff, ex-staff, clients and ex-clients exploring the past, present and future of PR. To support this, we commissioned a survey of 150 PR professionals to further explore opinions on the past, present and future of PR. The findings of this will soon be found in our white paper on our 25th anniversary page. This shows that many PRs in the industry believe that the trends on the rise are crisis management via social media; content marketing; and the rise of mobile.

The results of our research and white paper underpin the Firefly approach to the work we do for our clients. We’re helping our clients become much more visual in their communication, helping their message become much clearer and able to reach multiple channels, including social and mobile. At Firefly we work to extremes and this can be seen in our varied client base. Underlining everything we do, is the need for integrated communications campaigns, spread across online, social and print media.

An example of a client we’ve been working on is social ‘petwork’ Yummypets. Our aim with Yummypets was to drive sign ups on the site, which we helped them to achieve through a social debate focusing on whether or not the UK was a nation of cat lovers or dog lovers. This enabled us to get cut-through in both digital and print coverage.

Another client, InvestingZone – a crowd equity funding platform – is, in a sense, the polar opposite to Yummypets. For InvestingZone, success can be measured in site visits from the investor community specifically, with the ultimate intention being their conversion into investors. Firefly has developed a targeted comms plan whereby titles like City AM and the Telegraph’s business supplement are key targets, and relationships with opinion-leading journalists cultivated.

Our breadth of experience within the agency gives us a wide variety of knowledge; and as a result we’re able to create granular high definition campaigns, encompassing planning, delivery and measurement.

What's the company’s ethos? Is this central to your PR work?

If you can’t define it, you can’t measure it; therefore it’s providing you with no return on investment and no engagement for your clients. If you have no understanding of what’s driving your clients’ goals, then you won’t be able to move that needle.

What future public relations plans do you have for Firefly?

Our future plans for Firefly are to do what we have always done – be ahead of the curve. We see the future of PR as having three essential elements: demonstrating our real value by finessing our measurement methodology; further improving the integration of social media with traditional PR tactics; and continuing to develop new services. Therefore, this will be the focus of the agency’s work in order to keep our clients ahead of their competition.

Please tell us about your role within the agency?

My role at Firefly is varied and involves a combination of client counsel, driving forward our vision for Firefly and ensuring we maintain operational excellence. I’ve worked in PR for 30 years now, so nothing surprises me anymore. No matter however scary or strange the situation is, I’m always there to support clients with calm constructive support.

With our tech heritage, I can clearly see how the use of technology can drive efficiency. Ultimately the people who best benefit from this are our clients and this is a dream that we’re now putting into action.

An agency must be profitable and must also reinvest in people and practises whilst also experimenting and putting trust into new initiatives. In order to make the break through, agencies must have a firm platform upon which to push off, without this, nobody is able to make the leaps and bounds necessary in PR.

How does Firefly prove its value to clients?

Every client has different objectives, so the most important point is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Objectives need to be measurable and linked to outcomes rather than outputs. We all like to see high quality coverage, but it’s not just about seeing your name in print, but understanding what makes a difference to the business. Despite the advent of web analytics and other methodologies, ‘the attribution issue’ still exists, so despite our focus on results, we’re continuing to look to improve our measurement methodology.  

How do you think the PR industry on the whole has coped with the rapid change to digital? What’s next on the horizon?

Many agencies have been very quick to adopt digital, whilst some still lag behind. The biggest challenge lies in bringing clients along for the ride too. Many clients will always crave for print coverage which can sometimes deliver little value. We need to help clients see and appreciate the power of social and digital, in order to reach more appropriate audiences.

Coming up next, I think the industry will become more focused on numerical statistics and tracking their results, so we can achieve the high definition success of our campaigns. PR people of the future I envisage as being maths whizzes and data analysts, however these will be counterbalanced by the crazy creatives, who’ll never go away. We need them too.

In your opinion, what are the main challenges facing the PR industry today?

Firstly, I think the biggest challenge is still ‘the attribution issue’ – i.e. how did PR contribute to this result/these results? Secondly, I would say it’s about adjusting to a world where traditional media has less influence. To get the right business result, you need to combine so many more channels and tactics. The challenge is working out which are best for each individual challenge, in a world that’s constantly changing. So what’s right today, might not be right next year.

What is your stance on SEO and social media? How best can the traditional PR world (or at least what’s left of it!) continue to encompass digital PR?

All optimised and social content these days comes routine to us as an early morning espresso. Almost everything we’re doing contributes to our client’s SEO strategy so it’s becoming part and parcel of everything we do. These days, could any agency survive without offering SEO or social?

I mentioned earlier, our Firefly 25th videos  In hers, Gill Hawkins, director of marketing communications at Savvis, said that agencies and companies would be dead in the water if they aren’t able to get their head around digital.

Tell us about one initiative/campaign you're currently working on. What is the brief, approach, and intended result?

One of the consumer campaigns we’re working on at the moment is for Give as you Live, the online fundraising platform where you can raise money for your favourite charity at no cost to you. Our brief is two-pronged, focusing on a consumer push going hand in hand with a retailer push, aiming to increase the traffic and consumer sign up numbers on the site, as well as raising awareness and sign ups with retailers. One of the approaches we’re using to achieve results is press tours with the Give as you Live clients. Focusing on publishing houses, we set up multiple meetings with high-profile magazines in fashion, lifestyle, tech and more, to get the Give as you Live message across to key journalists.

In addition, we have conducted research into consumer spending, donation and online habits, with the aim of getting data on consumer behaviour throughout the year. This has enabled us to sell in stories to both mass media publications such as The Daily Mail, The Times and The Metro, as well as leading retail publications such as Retail Bulletin, Retail Gazette and Retail Digital. The intended result at the culmination of this campaign is to raise the number of shoppers using Give as you Live. This will help increase the amount of money spent via Give as you Live online and donated to charity.

How do you ensure the company gets the right coverage in the press?

The right coverage is the bit in the middle. In order to achieve the right coverage, we need to think about what we want to be known for. Once this is decided, we can start thinking about what we want to say and how accurately we want it to be understood. We need to come up with an issue that’s viable and of interest to both the media we’re targeting and the people we want to be talking to.

Which areas of the press do you communicate with the most and which media outlets or journalists do you regularly work with?

No one fits into categories anymore. When communicating with consumers, we’re often thinking of multiple media targets and wondering how to reach them. We’re also having to think more about how the content we’re creating and selling in to the press can migrate to social platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

Most of the time when categorising media publications, we’re either looking at focusing on B2C, B2B or mass media as the major breakdowns.

One interesting development for the future is the further breakdown of the media into mutual interests and shared locations. The key for them is how to keep themselves important.

What are your three tips/rules to building and maintaining strong relationships with journalists/bloggers?

1. Make sure you approach things from their point of view

2. Make sure what you have is different, interesting and relevant

3. KISS – as in the acronym, not the action!

Is there anything else that you’d like to tell us about your career background?

Some people see PR as a career start with a variety of adaptable skills to learn. Having worked in the industry for 30 years, I wouldn’t have picked anything else. There have been plenty of highs and lows during my time, but it’s been a wonderful career choice.

There’s a great opportunity for staying power in the industry, as myself and other professionals will tell you.

Name three guests you’d invite to a dinner party and why.

1. Mae West – for entertainment value and so I can learn a few of her one liners

2. Dr Livingstone – for his fantastic tales of exploration and discovery

3. Warren Buffett – for his take on business and some stock picking tips

What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?

Don’t do it! (But I did it anyway and it worked!)